Saturday 29 November 2014

The vinyl revival myth

This week’s announcement that vinyl sales in the UK have passed 1 million copies for the first time since 1996 is based on flawed data.

Only a tiny amount of the 250 records I’ve bought this year, for example, will have been registered by the BPI. I bought most of them in shops the BPI doesn’t monitor, gigs they don’t know about, cottage industry mail order outlets that fly under the BPI's radar, and directly from labels in the UK and abroad.

Some of the criticism about vinyl’s increased popularity is that it’s either mainly releases by heritage acts or reissues of albums bought mostly by people who already own the music on CD.

So when Pink Floyd, the seventh biggest-selling artist of all time (250 million), get the fastest-selling vinyl LP of the century with 6,000 sales priced at around £30 each, we get some perspective about this vinyl revival.

Pink Floyd buyers are older and richer than the idealistic view of teenagers spending their pocket money on records. The BPI’s data is for albums only. Teenagers might be spending their pocket money on 7” singles, but the BPI will never know.

Damon Krukowski made a valid point about record pricing and illegal downloads last year: “I believe that the relationship [between music buyers and artists] is relatively undisturbed by the internet — that’s why limited editions, from lavish box sets to underground cassettes, seem to be humming along fine right now. Those are products made for a specific audience, which appreciates their agreed-upon value.”

Record labels, then, have entered into an unspoken pact whereby they’ll sell over-priced vinyl to a relatively well-off demographic.

The BPI’s figures reflect the buying habits of a small number of classic rock fans. This is nothing new. In the early 90s, a popular bhangra act could sell 30,000 tapes. In his essay Cultural Production in the British Bhangra Music Industry, Rajinder Kumar Dudrah makes a similar point to Krukowski when he explains bhangra’s pricing policy in 2002: “An eight-track bhangra album on cassette sells for £3 - £5 compared to British pop albums on cassette and CD priced around £13 and above. This difference between the two music industries has to do with the pricing of bhangra music by its retailers and distributors who have found that Asian audiences are unwilling to pay higher prices in line with mainstream music.”

In the same year, 2002, how many thousands of grime 12”s were sold in Bow? I don’t know and nor does the BPI.

A lot of the underground indie scene has moved back to making tapes in the past 3 years. They’re cheaper to make, there are no delays at pressing plants (want to press 300 7”s? Get in line behind the majors and don’t try to do anything in the 4 months before Record Store Day) and they’re much cheaper to post.

Massive postage increases, principally for the US and UK post offices to cash in on Amazon deliveries, have hit indie labels self-distributing vinyl.

Eventually, some of those tapes do get pressed on vinyl. Girlpool’s tape from early this year has just been released on coloured vinyl by Wichita. Will I be buying it at the Independent Label Market today? Will I fuck.

I’m not calling out Wichita here. Quite simply, there aren’t many of those tapes. The songs deserve a wider audience and I hope they get them. But I won’t be buying them again. That tactic works with major labels and classic rock. It doesn’t work with music fans searching for something new and fresh every week.

Just as the BPI’s sales figures don’t work because they don't count the records bought by music fans searching for something new and fresh every week.

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